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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Wash is imprisoned, and very nearly dies.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2875 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
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4. Police Procedure has Changed Since I was Little
Wash came to aboard a ship, but he knew before he opened his eyes that it wasn’t Serenity. The engine sounds were all wrong. He looked around and saw that he was in an infirmary, although it was smaller, darker, and dirtier than Simon’s. A muscular youth in grimy work clothes was bustling around; when Wash raised his head, the youth looked over at him and smiled.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” the youth said.
Wash scratched at his forearm, which was itching fiercely, and looked down at it when he felt something under his skin. He noticed then that his own clothes were gone; he was wearing instead a short-sleeved gray coverall that he recognized, after a moment’s consideration, as prison garb.
“Implant’ll stop itching after a while. You want some cream for it, though?” the youth said.
“Shouldn’t I get a trial or something, before I get shipped off to prison?” Wash asked, holding out his arm for the anti-itch cream the other fellow offered.
The young man laughed, squeezing a dollop of cream onto Wash’s forearm. “Where do you think you are exactly? Sihnon?”
“Well, I was kind of wondering,” Wash said. “Before I got shot in the neck by a couple of guys I never met before, I was actually in a scrapyard on Beaumonde doing absolutely nothing illegal, or even morally questionable.” The youth didn’t respond, so Wash kept talking. “Hey,” he said, “I don’t suppose anybody else came aboard with me? Do you know?”
“Sure,” the youth replied. “Four others. They’re in the hole already – you the only one who came in lying down.”
“Do you know who they are? I mean, their names? Or, maybe what they look like? Because, see, I was with this girl – “ thinking of Kaylee, Wash felt sick. What if it was just him and Kaylee stuck in the middle of whatever was going on here? Because Mal and Zoe, or Mal and Jayne, or Zoe and Jayne in a situation like this would break down some walls and whup some bad guys and, oh, maybe crash the ship somewhere but without killing anybody, and get away, but if it was just him and Kaylee what could they possibly do? Wash wasn’t sure there was an ounce of whup in Kaylee, and not much more in himself. “I just wondered if she was here, or anybody else from my . . .” Ship? Crew? Family? How much, really, could he safely reveal to this stranger?
“You don’t have a name on this ship,” the youth said. “Just the number on your prison chip.” He indicated the itchy place on Wash’s arm. “Yours is 27. Longer than that, really, but we just use the last two digits. As for others, hey, you can go see ‘em for yourself right now.” He held out an arm in the direction of the infirmary’s exit, and uholstered a well-used pistol with his other hand.
Wash rose and obediently walked in the direction indicated.
In the hole turned out to be a literal description of the place Wash was led to – a dimly lit smuggler’s hold with an uncomfortably low ceiling, hidden beneath the freighter’s usual cargo hold. There was no ladder; Wash simply lowered himself into the space and hunched over once he was in it. He looked around and realized with dismay that not one of the four people also imprisoned with him was in any way familiar.
He settled himself in a corner, with his arms around his knees and his head tucked down, as he slipped slowly from nervousness into despair.
Wash judged the passage of time in the smuggler’s hold by his body, which was all he had. After a while, he was thirsty; but of course there was nothing to drink. Not long after that, in an unhappy irony, he needed to urinate; what was available turned out to be a covered pail along one wall. He availed himself of it, and then returned to his corner in silence. Beyond that, he started to get hungry, which he figured meant he was eight to ten hours out from his last meal. Part of his mind – the part that liked to always know exactly where he was – guessed at their speed based on the rumble and whine of the engine, and tried to figure what their destination might be based on that. He didn’t get far, because he didn’t know how long they’d been out of atmo before he came to.
The other part of his mind fretted over whether the rest of Serenity’s crew were still free and with the ship. If they were, then they surely had noticed by now that he was missing. Unless something else pressing intervened, they’d surely start trying to find him. But how far would they get? The scrapyard, surely – but beyond that? Either Mal or Zoe could fly Serenity in a pinch, but neither was especially skilled at, or fond of, takeoffs. Or landings. Or docking maneuvers. Or navigation. Or flying when fuel was tight and needed to be conserved. Or when something went wrong with the ship. Or when they were being chased. And at least one of those situations seemed to arise every few hours or so aboard Serenity. So could be, if they decided they needed to find a replacement pilot – a temporary replacement pilot -- before they could come get him, that help would be a long time coming.
His unhappy musings were interrupted at last by the roar of the ship entering atmo, and the familiar gut-wrench of ship’s gravity pulling against planetary gravity. Their destination was a planet, then, or a moon, and not a space station or another ship. Probably a border world – he doubted they’d be making for the Core – about half a day out from Beaumonde. The list of possibilities was backward and dismal, but not too far out of Serenity’s usual stomping grounds.
The ship touched down – either something was wrong with their landing gear, or with their pilot, Wash noted, as the impact jarred his teeth – and moments later, the hatch of the smuggler’s hold opened and the prisoners were offered a hand up into the main hold, which was fair bristling with firearms. They were ushered out through a cargo airlock into blinding sunlight and a bleak landscape of chain-link fences topped with razor wire, guard towers at regular intervals, and the roar of heavy machinery somewhere nearby.
“Meet your new employer,” a man with a gun said to the five prisoners
The man who stepped forward in response to this invocation was just about as close to perfectly round as Wash had ever seen. He wasn’t very tall – Wash topped him by at least a foot – but he was every bit as wide as that. “I am Foreman Balch,” the man rumbled, barely audible over the machine noise. He stepped up to each of the new arrivals in turn, and held a brief conversation, after which the new arrival was sent off down a fenced path in the direction of the machine noise.
Balch stepped in front of Wash. “What’s your number?” he asked.
“Ah,” Wash had to think a moment, “27. I think.”
Balch’s eyes narrowed; Wash would learn eventually that Balch never used recording devices – everything he needed to know to run his operation, he committed to memory. “You’re on Gang Five. Your Gang leader’s name is Toupin; he’s the tallest man on the mine, so you’ll find him easy enough. Do what he tells you, when he tells you, and you’ll do okay.”
Balch stepped to the next prisoner, and Wash started slowly down the path toward what was, he would soon find, a thriving surface mine run entirely with questionably-obtained labor. They had landed on an old, but well-kept landing pad; Wash assumed that was where the ships bringing new labor customarily landed. “Think like Zoe,” he muttered to himself, “think like Mal.” Wash watched the layout of the mine and its surroundings as he walked toward it, and formed the rudiments of a plan. Stay alive until you can steal a ship. Not much of a plan, to be sure – but when were Mal’s plans ever any better than that? And Mal seemed to generally stay alive and free.
By now, Wash was acutely hungry, and even more acutely thirsty, but he had apparently arrived at the start of the local day, just after breakfast. He reported, as ordered, to Toupin, who asked his number and handed him a shovel, which Wash used alongside the rest of Gang Five to load ore that had spilled from the digging machines back onto a nearby conveyer belt.
Wash had grown up on a world so polluted that the sun was never brighter than a standard light-panel, and the stars were never visible. He’d spent most of his adult life aboard ships, temperature-controlled and radiation-shielded. Therefore, he’d never before had opportunity to fully appreciate the drawbacks of a fair complexion under a clear and blistering summer sky.
Learning to appreciate them at last nearly destroyed his very simple plan.
Wash’s fair complexion and lack of acclimatization, combined with not having eaten, drunk or slept for almost a full day, soon had him leaning on the shovel for support, blinking to try to clear his vision, while Toupin shouted from what seemed a very great distance “27! Hey! Grab him!”
For the second time in a single day, Wash regained consciousness in an infirmary – this time, Balch was standing next to him, and an IV bag was slowly dribbling fluids into his arm. His skin was red and blistered, and burning like fire. Wash moaned.
Balch sighed heavily and pulled a chair up next to the bed. Seated, he wasn’t that much shorter than he was standing. “Tch, 27. You gave me a scare just now, when Toupin carried you in.”
Wash grunted. He was surprised they hadn’t just let him die. Wasn’t that what happened to people in places like this?
“I have orders on every single person in this mine – and I keep ‘em. My orders on you – and you’re privileged to know this – are to keep you alive until I hear different from them that sent you here. Now, how am I supposed to do that if you’re going to stroke out on me before lunch?”
Wash worked some moisture into his mouth. “I didn’t mean to ruin your day,” he said bitterly. Somebody had sure meant to ruin his day, and he was beginning to think he’d very much like to know who, in order to return the favor.
Balch chuckled. “Well. Plain enough you won’t do for a laborer. So, case like this, what I do is ask a man if he has any skills – see if I can find him something to do won’t kill him before he’s supposed to die. So what about you, 27? You got any kind of skill I might make use of that would keep you out of the sun?”
Wash considered. If he told the man he was a pilot, Balch might give him some kind of atmospheric craft to fly – but, he’d probably also make sure Wash never got within sight of anything spaceworthy. He could call himself a mechanic, but probably couldn’t back it up. Wash knew Serenity pretty well, but with machines generally he doubted his usefulness. So what did that leave him?
“I’m pretty good with numbers,” he offered. “You know. Math.”
Balch chuckled. He chortled. He got to laughing so hard that tears squeezed out of his eyes, and he actually slapped his knee. “Well, I never heard the like of that,” he said. “Math! Ask a man does he have any skills and he tells me ‘Well, I can do math.’ Hoo. What are you, a professor got nabbed out of the Core for failing some Parliament member’s brat? No wonder you ain’t no good in the sun. All right, Professor, I will go and find you some math to keep you busy ‘til I get the word to make you dead.” Balch rose, stabbing a fat finger at Wash’s face. “Your end of the deal, ‘course, is to not die ‘til I tell you to. We clear?”
“Yeah,” Wash said. He was all for staying alive for the foreseeable future. “We’re clear.”
Balch left. Wash slept.
Thursday, January 18, 2007 12:39 PM
Thursday, January 18, 2007 3:35 PM
Thursday, January 18, 2007 6:10 PM
Friday, January 19, 2007 1:30 AM
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